Delle Donne learns from highs, lows

INDIANAPOLIS -- Elena Delle Donne has a new niece to visit and a terrific first season as a pro to reflect upon. But she also knows there's a lot of work to do, even after a WNBA rookie of the year season.

Delle Donne helped lead Chicago to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this season, but the Sky were swept by the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever in their first-round series. Delle Donne averaged 18.1 points during the regular season but 13.8 in five games against the Fever.

Sunday, Delle Donne had 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field in the Sky's 79-57 loss.

"I just ran out of steam," Delle Donne said of how the Fever's defense wore her down. "That is something that's happened all season and why I have to get so much stronger.

"I try to use it as a learning situation. They have such great defenders, and when they are switching fresh defenders on you, it's hard."

One of those defenders, Tamika Catchings, could empathize.

"People don't realize how hard it is to be defended by different types of players," said Catchings, a forward who, along with guards Karima Christmas and Shavonte Zellous, combined to largely neutralize Delle Donne. "You're thinking you want to post up when there's a smaller guard on you, but then the defense changes, and you never really get comfortable."

The Fever are one of the toughest defensive teams in the league to face, and Indiana was well-prepared for the 6-foot-5 rookie out of Delaware.

"The key to Delle Donne is keeping fresh people on her," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "We're constantly moving different people on her, and that wore her down. She's just a rookie. Let's don't forget that. She still hasn't developed her body strength as far as she's going to.

"And we know her sweet spots, and we're going to be there when she's there. We're going to make everything difficult."

Nobody has to tell Delle Donne that she needs to bulk up a bit. She dealt with a reoccurrence of Lyme disease during her senior season in college, an illness that had also caused her to miss time in the 2010-11 season.

"That was debilitating; I probably lost over 20 pounds during that," Delle Donne said of the flare-up last fall. "It was hard to get strength back, and also I didn't want to overdo it because I didn't want to relapse. But I've really learned a lot this season. Defensively, I think that's where I have gained the most knowledge. I've learned things that I wasn't even aware of in college."

Delle Donne said her immediate priority now that the Sky's season is over is to go visit her new niece, born to her brother and his wife last Monday. Then, she will take a little time off before starting her offseason conditioning in earnest. Delle Donne will not play overseas this winter but instead will stay in Chicago.

"I want to be rejuvenated to really crush it when I get back to training," she said. "And I'll be running some camps, which I really look forward to and am excited about.

"This season has been nice, because playing at Delaware, in some ways, I was hidden. It's been fun that more people have been able to watch me play. I will be able to look back on the season and be proud of the strides we made, but we fell short. You can let it make or break you. I'm going to take it and improve so this doesn't happen again."